It’s Francis Poulenc’s birthday today – he was born in 1899 and died in 1963. His father owned an enormous chemical company which is still in business and his mother was an art lover who introduced young Francis to the piano. What is odd is that as far as I can ascertain, both parents were French, so why was Poulenc named Francis and not Francois? No one mentions it, which is very annoying.
Anyway, Poulenc got to be friends with Darius Milhaud when they were teenagers and both wound up in some chic group of composers called Les Six (there were four others who needn’t concern us), under the guidance of Jean Cocteau who used to meet them at a Paris bistro called Le boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof). The bar had been renamed for Milhaud’s ballet. On opening night Diaghilev, Picasso, Rene Clair and Maurice Chevalier were in the audience, making it all very ’20s Paris avant-garde and great fun.
Somewhere around 1916, Milhaud had gone to Brazil and in 1922 he went to New York and heard jazz for the first time and completely flipped out – the results of both those sorties are evident in his music. In 1939, he and his wife read the writing on the wall and as they were Jewish, they left for America.
Milhaud got a job teaching at Mills College in Oakland CA, where two of his outstanding students were Dave Brubeck and Philip Glass. Oh, and Burt Bacharach, to whom Milhaud is reported to have said, “Don’t be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle.” Brubeck, btw, named his first-born son Darius.
Sometimes the world seems really, really small.
Anyway, here’s something jolly that we’ve probably all hummed along to without knowing it was Milhaud: